An orange sunset radiates through the pine-lined driveway of the Tri-Lake Campground in Marshall. Ruby creeps down the narrow lanes according to the posted speed limit, 6-3/4 MPH, to Lot #39, our home this week. Hauling the RV through campgrounds is like pulling a float in a parade, complete with spectators. Campers around campfires, old folks in lawn chairs, families eating at picnic tables, all stop and stare. People inside their RVs peer out the windows. Really, just like a parade. Or, maybe the Twilight Zone.
We do the same thing. Someone drives by, we peek out. Don't know what causes this nosiness, and am surprised and ashamed to find myself involuntarily peeking. Never, ever, in my entire life, have I ever noticed my neighbors. . . Not even when I lived in cramped honeycomb apartment buildings. Now, against my will, I have become Gladys Kravitz. So here is one of the first changes RV life is having on me.
We meet some of our neighbors and learn they're from Marshall, the same town as the campground. They park their RV here for the season to escape (?) on weekends. We are perplexed: why buy an expensive RV to stay home?
Another perplexing thing is golf carts. Everywhere. Whirring up and down the little lanes of the campground, whizzing to the phone booth, zipping to the bathroom, to Bingo, to shuffleboard, and all along the hiking trails. How did this come about? Who first brought a golf cart camping? And how did it catch on? The RV park looks like Fred Flintstone's Bedrock. Rounded, odd-shaped RVs resemble Bedrock's primitive houses, and the golf carts look like Fred's car, sans the running feet.
On this evening's walk through a nearby lakeside community we pass a house with a beautiful garden. What are those big red flowers? Poppies? Get in for a closer look. Afraid someone will come out and yell to get off the property. No one comes. On the way back from the walk we see the other side of the house. Wow. So cute. But the house itself is quite ordinary. It's the awnings, yes. And the yard and the garden that make it so charming. Across the street on the lake side is another garden similar to this one. Must belong to the same people. It's so inviting. So carefully planned and tended. Just then a man calls to us. We're caught. He's very nice, though. Not angry at our trespassing. Explain that we were entranced by his garden. He tells us his wife did it all. Tells us we should come see her latest garden project . . . a labyrinth. His wife is quite talented. She even hand-painted the awnings we had admired earlier. We're invited inside to see what she's done with the interior of the house. Well, Martha Stewart has nothing on this lady. We learn she has a shop in town called "Serendipity." How perfect.
Back at Tri-Lakes. It's dark now but the park is aglow with a mixture of party lights dangling off individual RVs. Like houses on a street at Christmastime. Little colored lanterns hang from RV awnings. Some are multi-colored, some are single colored, some are Christmas lights doubling as party lights for the summer. Fun. Feel like we're not living in the real world, but rather in a state of perpetual holiday. "I want party lights," says Ken. "We need party lights."
"ATTENTION CAMPERS!" The campground PA system announces. "BINGO IN THE BARN AT 7. BINGO IN THE BARN AT 7PM." Never played Bingo. For money that is. Played it enough as a kid. Never cared for it. Too stressful. Too many close calls. Near wins. Sad endings. Plus, I hear that adult "Bingo for bucks" is not at all like Bingo for kids. People intently hover over their numerous Bingo cards and play to the death. Decide to forego Bingo. Instead, Ken and I go for a hike along one of the many beautiful trails here. We hike cautiously, though, as a swarm of golf carts occasionally zip up and buzz our butts insisting we move aside.
Our hike ends at a playground by the lake. A tall, shiny, aluminum slide challenges me. It says, "Remember how much fun I used to be? C'mon slide down. I double dare ya." Tell Ken I'm gonna slide down. Expect disapproval. Instead he laughs, "Go for it, " he says. Suddenly I recall how scary it is to climb the ladder. More frightful now because, as an adult, the full consequences are clearly evident. But oh what fun! Whooosh! Ken tries it too. The two of us can't stop. Just one more run before the streetlights come on.
Make no mistake. An RV may seem like home, but it is a camp. At home, for example, taking showers, brushing teeth, flushing the toilet, or washing dishes doesn't fill up the sewer. But in an RV, all waste water drains into a small "holding tank" to be dealt with at a later date in a much more disgusting state. When necessary, Ken empties the tank, but not before putting on his big black murderous looking rubber gloves that go all the way to his elbows. He looks like an executioner. (And the job may be just as nasty.) At this campsite, however, they have a "mobile sewer," a portable sewer tank towed by a tractor. The vehicle is euphemistically called a "Honey Wagon." It has a happy bumble bee painted on the side panel. Today we book the Honey Wagon. It costs six bucks a dump. Pay in advance. We see the Honey Wagon making the rounds. Here it comes. Nope. Going next door. We should be next. Nope. Down the road. Finally the Honey Wagon is at our door. A friendly man named Fred hitches a hose to suck the muck into the Honey Wagon. We nonchalantly chat small talk with Fred, pretending the stuff he's extracting doesn't belong to us. It's awkward..
Dinner in the RV tonight. It's 9:30PM and just starting to get dark. The dinner table in the RV is more like a booth in a diner, a window seat. We sit eating silently, staring out the window. Nothing much to say. * Flick.* Was that a lightening bug? No. Just someone turning on their porch light. *Flick.* Wait a minute that WAS a lightening bug. Look! There's another one. Wow. Another and another. It's been so long since we've seen one. We go outside and take a walk through the nearby cornfield. Astounding! *Flick* Flick * Flick * Flick* *Flick* Flick * Flick * Flick* . There must be a million, trillion, zillion lightening bugs sparkling all around us. It feels fake. Like we're in some kind of Walt Disney animated film. Feel like we're surrounded by happy little fairies.
"ATTENTION CAMPERS!" the PA system announces. "PEACH PIE, RAISIN OATMEAL COOKIES, PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES AND OTHER DELICIOUS GOODIES ARE FOR SALE ON LOT 176." Mmmm. Would like to get some, but feel too shy to knock on a stranger's trailer and ask. I walk over to Lot 176 but can't get the courage to knock. It just feels too weird. Even though common sense tells me she wants to sell this stuff and probably would like to get some cash, I still can't interrupt her home. Seems intrusive.
Another hot day. Ken and I have beer and nachos down at the gazebo overlooking the lake. This is a big gazebo with nice Adirondack chairs facing the sunset as it reflects golden hues on the lake. A beautiful spot for evening cocktails. Nobody ever uses this gazebo so we take full advantage and hog the thing. Man is it hot. After our "Happy Hour" we decide to go for a swim. Got the whole beach to ourselves. Our hot bodies sizzle as they dip into the cool water. Ssssst. Ahhhhh. Back at the trailer we've got all the windows and doors open. It's 11 PM before I can bring myself to make dinner. So stifling hot! The trailer is thick with heat. How does that woman in Lot 176 bake cookies and pies in her trailer in this heat? I should have bought some from her. All the work she did and my own stupid ego wouldn't let me knock on her door.
Knock. Knock. Someone is at our door. Our neighbor tells us that he's going home. There is a tornado warning for midnight tonight. I look at the clock on the microwave . . .It's 11:40. We thank him and enviously watch him drive off to safety. Great. Another tornado!
"ATTENTION CAMPERS," the PA system cries. "THERE IS A TORNADO WARNING FOR THIS AREA. ALL CAMPERS ARE ADVISED TO TAKE COVER IN THE RESTROOMS." No sooner does the announcement end when the wind whips up, right on cue. Terrified, we hurry through the RV taking what we think we'll need if the trailer is lost to a twister. A quick, evaluation of our belongings . . . What should we take? What shall we leave? BOOM! The thunder warns. GET GOING YOU MORONS! Grab just my purse and dash to the restrooms. Figure the buildings won't be functioning as Ladies Rooms and Mens Rooms, but as unisex shelters. Choose to go to the Ladies Room. It is filled with elderly ladies in housecoats, hair in curlers, sitting in a circle of folding chairs, smoking, talking, laughing like it's a Friday night poker game. No men. We try the Mens Room. No women. Well, if we are to die, we want to die together, not in separate bathrooms. Discuss situation. Look at sky. Discuss some more. Decide to go to Ruby. Run to Ruby through the wind-whipping hail, thunder and lightening. Close the door and watch wide-eyed as the storm hurls its threats like the Big Bad Wolf. Don't want to make a sound for fear of being discovered by the violent wind. The Harvey is in front of us. We watch its frail body shake. I ask Ken what would happen to the RV in a twister. "Oh, it'll go up like a box kite," he says matter-of-factly. But the storm soon ends as quickly as it arrived. People are out and about. Although it's now 2AM, the sky seems light and peaceful. Timidly, we step out of the truck. Go inside the trailer to check for damage. Seems ok.
Another state. Another tornado. Another twist of fate. Onto Wisconsin . . .